Richard Hunter is a US Army war veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. He experiences severe bouts of anxiety.
Hunter’s world brightened up this July when Dogs4Warriors presented Hunter with a service dog to help him with his anxiety. The dog senses the anxiety coming on before Hunter ever realizes he’s having another episode. His dog has helped him so much that Hunter braved going out of the house and taking his son and a co-worker to a Subway restaurant for lunch. Hunter describes the experience:
“This was huge to go out with my son for the first time in over ten years.”
However, his joy of being out with his son was soon dashed to the ground before he ever had a chance to place an order. Hunter noticed that there was a sign on the door of the Subway that read ‘Service animals are welcome,’ but he soon found out that wasn’t the case.
Sarah Wallace, a reporter with Eyewitness News in Patterson, New Jersey spoke with Hunter about what happened:
Hunter: I may have been holding the door when he first said something. He said, ‘The dog is not allowed in here. Get the dog out of here.’
Wallace: He was clearly identified as a service animal.
Hunter: He was wearing what he has on right now. I said he was a service animal.
Wallace: He didn’t care.
Hunter: That’s exactly what he said, ‘I don’t care.’
That’s when Hunter said he called the police, but was shocked when they told him there was nothing they could do, so he called the owner of the restaurant. Hunter and Wallace continued their interview:
Hunter: The owner told me straight up: ‘I can refuse service to anyone I want.’
Hearing that from the owner, Hunter contacted Robert Tandy, a disability rights attorney. Wallace interviewed Tandy about the situation:
Tandy: No food establishment can refuse entry to a service animal.
Wallace: Plain and simple.
Tandy: Simple as that.
Being a good investigative reporter, Wallace then found Mitul Ahmed, the manager of the Subway, only to have him lie to her about who he was, telling her that Ahmed was not there at the moment. About that time, Zaphir Pathan, the son of the man who owns the Subway franchise arrived and spoke with Wallace:
Pathan: If he’s not going to say he made a mistake, that’s fine too, because I’m going to be the better person, you know, we both messed up, all right, we messed up more.
Wallace: How did he mess up by having a service dog and wanting to go into the store, I don’t understand that?
Pathan: You’re completely twisting the situation, that’s funny.
Wallace: If I go into that Subway with a service dog, will I be allowed in?
Pathan: You can go in right now because now we know.
Wallace asked Pathan about Ahmed lying to her when he denied being the manager and then claimed he wasn’t there at the time of the incident:
Wallace: So, you’re ok having him work for you when he lied?
Pathan: Who doesn’t lie when they don’t want their case thrown under the water?
Wallace: OK, my goodness.
Hunter says that all he wants is an apology from the restaurant, saying that they were wrong in telling him to leave with his service dog, but that apology doesn’t seem to be coming. He feels he has no recourse but to take the issue to court to impress upon the Subway owner and his manager that service dogs are allowed and that they should never have treated him the way they did.
Since getting his service dog, Hunter had been making great progress with his anxiety issues, until this whole thing blew up in his face. He told Wallace:
“Now, I’m afraid to go out. I’m having anxiety even to go to the corner store now.”
I hope the court lowers the boom on the Subway owner, his son and the manager. They need to pay and pay dearly. Hunter served his nation and suffers daily for that patriotism and he deserves to be treated better than that.